A razor-sharp focus allowed 15th-rated St. Ambrose to cut right to the point Sunday.
“We weren’t settling for second best, not in the regular season and not in this tournament,” senior Chris Donnelly said after the Fighting Bees cut down the nets at Lee Lohman Arena to celebrate winning the Midwest Collegiate Conference men’s basketball tourney championship for the first time since 2005.
Grand View wasn’t in any position to argue after enduring the dominating defensive display St. Ambrose put out in an 84-55 title game rout.
The win was the 15th straight for the Bees, matching the longest winning streak in coach Ray Shovlain’s 29 seasons.
The Bees held the Vikings without a field goal over the final 11 minutes, 49 seconds of the first half, and they didn’t stop there. Grand View’s scoring drought reached 14:32 before Allen Clark scored on a lay-in with 17:17 left in the game.
By then, the Bees had built a 48-19 lead.
“We got the game tied at 17-17, and then it seemed like we were stuck on 17 for three years,” Vikings coach Denis Schaefer said. “They were hitting everything and we couldn’t get a thing to drop. That was the knockout punch. We didn’t have any answers.”
Senior Mike Kennedy said defense and rebounding were critical components to the St. Ambrose game plan against an opponent which split regular-season games with the Bees (25-8).
“Grand View is a great defensive team, and we had to match their effort and energy,” Kennedy said. “We had to limit their big guys to one shot, and it came down to knowing that we had to be sharp on defense and on the boards. I felt like we had more energy, and that made a difference.”
As the Vikings missed inside and out, St. Ambrose ran off 23 unanswered points to build a 40-17 advantage. The lead grew as large as 33 points on five occasions in the second half.
Nicholas Frazier sparked the run with back-to-back 3-point baskets. Then the Bees attacked the rim, scoring and hitting free throws after being fouled five times during the stretch to account for 15 points in the run that broke the game open.
“I really felt like this game was going to be a battle, coming right down to the end, but our guys came to play,” Shovlain said. “The focus on the defensive end was outstanding, and in that stretch where we pulled away, it seemed like everything was rolling our way.”
The Bees limited the Vikings (17-13) to 38.3 percent shooting, but good defense created offensive opportunities on the other end of the court where St. Ambrose picked apart a defense that ranked sixth nationally by holding opponents to 39.7 percent shooting.
Finishing with 20 points, Donnelly led a Bees offense that shot 53.6 percent and buried 10-of-20 3-point attempts. Nicholas Frazier added 18 points, while Kennedy collected 15 to go with a game-high 13 rebounds.
“Everybody had it going,” Donnelly said. “You want to be playing your best basketball at this time of year, and we put it all together. We had it going on both ends of the floor.”
Amin Ekalino, a sophomore from Rock Island, led Grand View with 14 points and seven rebounds.